Islands: The Islands of Dr. Thorburn

The Islands of Dr. Thorburn

Nick Thorburn: "I had to fight against abstractions and try to be as clear as possible"
Photo: Liam Maloney

On A Sleep & A Forgetting, Islands leader Nick Thorburn goes for his most daring experiment yet: the earnest, bittersweet breakup album

Three years after putting aside his "Nick Diamonds" stage name and the bombastic instrumentations of Arm’s Way on Islands’ third offering, Vapours, Nick Thorburn continues in the same vein on A Sleep & A Forgetting, a new album revealing a surprisingly sincere side of him.

"I’m definitively apprehensive. It’s always a concern," says Thorburn on the phone from Los Angeles, where he’s "kinda doing the nomadic thing" after leaving New York and the significant other that inspired this LP. The usually eccentric bandleader goes on: "It’s an eventual reality and I’ve got to deal with that at some point because I don’t make music in a vacuum. We make it to play it to other people and, right now, it’s a bit frightening. This is the part where we are right on the brink of the album being released and people hearing it."

While Thorburn is confident enough in his new material, the fan reactions seem to concern him more than ever. "[The new album] is definitively different," he insists. "It might turn some people off, but it might also be endearing to some others."

Throughout the interview, Thorburn returns to the fact that he was out of his comfort zone on A Sleep & A Forgetting, which he created alongside colleagues Evan Gordon (who co-produced the album with the singer) and Geordie Gordon, the main reason being that the lyrics he wrote this time around were devoid of artifice and blurred images, a first for the singer-songwriter.

"I’m worried that it might turn off people who followed me in my past projects," he candidly admits. "It was a struggle. I had to push myself. I had to fight against abstractions and try to be as clear as possible. It made me realize how often I was couching my real feelings in metaphors and humour. It was a nice exercise to be explicitly brash," he notes before adding that, although he’s satisfied with the final result, he does not believe this exercise will become his new style.

While the press release romanticizes the quick "live with hardly a single overdub" recording session, Thorburn takes off the kid gloves when he tackles the subject. "It was really born out of a financial constraint. We could only budget that much time to make the record," he states, then adds, "The side effect of that is that we really had to come to the studio prepared. We didn’t linger. We had to get it good and keep moving. I think it made it really exciting, fresh and spontaneous to move that fast."


A Sleep & A Forgetting will also have an impact on Islands’ upcoming tour. "It’s extremely different from everything we’ve ever done," warns Thorburn. "Unfortunately, it’s less a party – it’s more of an experience. We’re taking it out of the rock club paradigm. It’s extremely quiet. It’s almost pin-drop kind of quiet! We’re trying to class it up; we’re trying to put a bow on this new tour."

Speaking of live shows, I couldn’t help but ask Thorburn about a recent Twitter joke he made about an upcoming Unicorns casino tour. While the seminal local indie rock band won’t share the stage with Celine Dion any time soon, Thorburn isn’t ruling out a reunion show. "Well, you know, 2013 will mark the 10th anniversary of Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone? and since Jamie [Thompson] and Alden [Penner] are still in Montreal, I think it would be cool to get back together for at least one show during Pop Montreal. We flirted with the idea from time to time and we’re all doing our own thing right now, but maybe 2013 will be the year where the stars will align. I’m always open!"

w/ Idiot Glee
At Cabaret du Mile End
February 27

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